From the moment Brittany Howard walked into the NPR offices, I could sense her intense commitment and passion. Her eight-piece backing band, all decked out in red and black, played with a soulful subtlety that bolstered Brittany Howard's tender songs about her family — stories of a mixed-race child growing up in Alabama.
All the songs performed at the Tiny Desk come from Jaime, an album Brittany Howard dedicated to her sister who died at the age of 13 from a rare form of eye cancer, the same disease that has left Brittany Howard partially blind in one eye. On these songs (and in particular at this Tiny Desk Concert), there is more nuance than I've heard in Brittany's past projects, including her work with Alabama Shakes and Thunderbitch. The music has a sense of wonder and playfulness, even when the subject is heavy, as in "Georgia." She tells the audience that it's a tale of "a little young, black, gay girl having a crush on an older black girl and not knowing what to say and how I was feeling."
Brittany Howard knows how to tell a story, to foster empathy and understanding and, in this intimate setting, the songs feel at home. The connection with the audience felt visceral as I looked around the room and into the eyes of my workmates and their friends. Even a small child in the arms of their parent screamed at the appropriate moment during the climax of Brittany's song, "Baby." It gave us all a good laugh just when the weight of the words felt the heaviest.
Brittany Howard: vocals, guitar; Nate Smith: drums; Alex Chakour: guitar; Brad Allen Williams: guitar; Zac Cockrell: bass; Lloyd Buchanan: keys; Paul Horton: keys; Shanay Johnson: vocals; Karita Law: vocals
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kara Frame, Beck Harlan, CJ Riculan; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive Producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Laura Beltran Villamizar/NPR